Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has ordered all restaurants, bars, movie theaters and gyms in the state to close indefinitely beginning at 5 p.m. Monday. Hogan also has banned all gatherings of more than 50 people.
“We need to do our part to stop this deadly virus from spreading,” Hogan said in a late Monday morning press conference before announcing new executive orders to protect public health and safety.
Drive-through, carryout, and food delivery services will be allowed to continue to operate, the governor said. Essential services such as grocery stores, food delivery, gas stations, banks, and pharmacies need to remain open.
As far as other retail establishments, Hogan said, “we don’t want anyone congregating with more than 50 people in one place regardless of what kind of a facility it is, but we don’t want to completely shut down commerce and we want people to get the things they need.”
“We don’t want large crowds of people in small, confined spaces, but we want as much as possible for daily life to go on and for people to get the things they need, especially on essential services,” he said.
The governor said he expects federal and state resources to assist individuals and businesses.
“Following updated CDC guidelines, we are prohibiting any social, community, religious, recreational, sports gatherings or events of more than 50 people in close proximity at all locations, establishments, and venues all across Maryland,” Hogan said. “These emergency orders carry the full force of the law and will be strictly enforced.”
“I want to again reiterate that it is impossible to know how long this threat will continue,” Hogan said Monday. “What I do know is that we cannot afford to wait to take action. While these measures may seem extreme, if we do not take them now, it could be too late.
“I will make whatever decisions and take whatever actions are necessary to save the lives of thousands of Marylanders and to protect our way of life itself.”
On Twitter Sunday afternoon, Hogan had put restaurants and bars on notice, tweeting: “I want to once again reiterate that bars, restaurants, and other non-essential businesses across the state MUST comply with the executive order prohibiting mass gatherings. Failure to follow this order is a crime, and will be enforced if businesses fail to comply.”
“We’re no longer asking for people’s cooperation,” he said Monday. “We’re not fooling around anymore.”
The administration has activated 250 state troopers from the mobile field force to help with enforcement.
Hogan has ordered the state health department to assess closed hospital facilities across Maryland to determine if those could be opened for use during the pandemic and to take other measures necessary to immediately increase capacity by 6,000 hospital beds “in order to meet the demand created by the escalating spread of this virus.”
The governor said the state has activated the Maryland Medical Reserve Corps, “a force of 5,000 dedicated and trained medical volunteers who are ready to assist in a public health emergency,” with 700 already activated for deployment.
Hogan’s executive orders also will allow any medical professional with a valid out-of-state license or an expired Maryland medical license to practice medicine in the state during the state of emergency.
“What we’re experiencing here is unprecedented, it is a public health emergency,” Fran Phillips, the state’s deputy health secretary, said.
“The one response we can muster (right now) is social distancing,” she said. “The steps that every Marylander can take today to put that distance between themselves and others is vitally important to slow down the spread of this infection across our state.”
The state activated 400 National Guardsmen, including two area support medical companies over the weekend, with 1,000 members now fully activated and another 1,200 on enhanced readiness, “with their bags packed fully ready for activation,” Hogan said.
The state education department has requested a federal waiver and will serve three meals a day and a snack to students who need it while schools are closed; 138 centers are already “up and operating,” the governor said.
Karen Salmon, state school superintendent, said the waiver, to allow schools to deliver more than two meals a day, hasn’t been granted yet, but the state is proceeding with its plans to do so.
To find a location, go to mdsummermeals.org, she said. “We anticipate serving about 100,000 meals over the next two weeks.”
Asked whether schools would close longer than the two weeks Salmon had previously ordered, she said, “We are actively looking at the modeling that shows where this virus is going.
“The reason I closed schools for two weeks is to give us some time to assess the situation.”
Hogan said the state also is looking at contingencies for the April 26 primary election.
In other executive orders:
• All utility companies — including electric, gas, water, sewer, telephone, cable TV, and internet service providers — are prohibited from shutting off services or charging late fees to residential customers.
• Evictions of any tenants are prohibited during the state of emergency.